Michael Hesemann, Historiker und Autor
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The history of their veneration
The question of their authenticity

Lecture at the Russian Orthodox Academy in St. Petersburg, 11. October 2016

GRACE BY TOUCH: In all Christian traditions relics are considered auxiliary means to come into physical contact with the transcendence. They are considered a bridge to heaven. Their possession means to bind the presence of a saint to a place, to open communication with him, to call for his intercession, hoping for his miraculous power. As representatives of the divine grace they are carried in processions through the cities in golden shrines, they fill churches with their blessing, revered by the faithful to whom they are presented for veneration with kisses and tender touches. They are brought to heal the sick while the Eastern Christians still touch their shrines to receive their "baraka“ or blessing and power. Already in early Christianity, strips of cloth that came in contact with them were revered as secondary relics; a way to spread their grace efficiently.

IN THE CENTER: That St. Peter's Basilica, the largest church in Christendom, was originally erected over the grave of St. Peter, was confirmed by excavations in the 1940s. They confirmed what was written in gold letters around the massive dome of Michelangelo: "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church" (Mt 16:18) The church was its architectural orchestration, up to the alleged Cathedra (See) of St. Peter, whose relic, cast in bronze, surrounded by a thousand angels, rises just below the glass window with the dove of the Holy Spirit so that it almost seems to float down from heaven, toward the living successor of Peter, the Pope. However, this simultaneous presence of the living and the heavenly Peter was not enough. St. Peter's Cathedral was not only built above his relics, no, four relic chapels were built into the four pillars on which the dome rests, dedicated to the four main relics of the Vatican Basilica, the Veil of Veronica, the True Cross, the lance of St. Longinus and, originally, the skull of St. Andrew (which Pope Paul VI. returned to the Greek Orthodox Church). They were (today only from the balcony of the Veronika-pillar) presented for veneration from the balconies of the four pillars to the faithful.

ALREADY IN THE TIME OF CHRIST…: We find the first evidence for the believe in the power of relics in the Gospel according to St. Mark, which was written in ca. 43 AD:    
“And He (Jesus) went with him, and a great crowd followed him and pressed him. And a woman who was afflicted for twelve years with a flow of blood, and had suffered  much and went to many physicians, and all her possessions  were spent with no benefit (it had rather become worse with her), came when she heard of Jesus, in the crowd behind and touched his clothes; For she said, If I may touch only his clothes, I will be healed. And immediately her flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of that disease and immediately Jesus, knowing in himself the power that had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and said, Who touched my clothes? And his disciples said to Him: You see he multitudefollowing thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And he looked around about to see her who had done this. But the woman, with fear and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her: Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy disease.” (Mk 5, 24-34)

… AND THE APOSTLES: Such healing, miracle-working power that emanated not only from himself, but apparently dwelt also in his robe, suspected the early Christians not only in Jesus, but also in his Apostles. So reports the Acts about St. Paul in Ephesus:
"Also unusual miracles God did through the hands of Paul. Even his sweatcloths and handkerchiefs they took away from his body and placed it on the sick; so the diseases were healed and the evil spirits went out.“ (Acts 19: 11-12)
That must have been around 53 AD, when most of the Apostles and disciples of Christ were still alive.

RELICS “MORE PRECIOUS THAN GOLD”:In the 2nd century, probably 155 AD, St. Polycarp of Smyrna suffered martyrdom, when Christians gathered up his bones: They were to them "more precious than gold and precious stones", as stated in a contemporary report on the "Martyrdom of Polycarp". Polycarp was a student of the Apostle and Evangelist John the Beloved, who had made him a bishop. Therefore, this report testifies to the practice of the veneration of relics already for the second generation of the disciples of the Apostles.

HOLY BONES…: Can bones be holy? Could one be sanctified by their touch, as obviously the woman was sanctified and healed by the touch of Christ’s robe or the believers were by the sweathcloths or handkerchiefs of an apostle, rather than getting impure, as the Jews believed? A new definition of the corps we find already in the Gospel according to Luke, where the resurrection of Christ is defined as a "unification of body and soul". Arnold Angenendt in his masterpiece: “Of Saints and Relics. The Story of their Cult from early Christianity to the Present“ (Munich 1994) writes: "With this statement, Luke opened himself to Hellenistic thinking and created the base for the later veneration of relics by postulating the resurrection in the flesh.” Also, St. Paul defined the body of Christians as an instrument of grace, yes, the temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor 3:16 and 6:19), participating in our salvation.  In the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas used this to defend the cult of holy relics: "Therefore, we should also venerate the remains (of the Saints) in their memory, especially the corpses, which were temples and instruments of the Holy Spirit, which dwelt and worked in them, and which will be made in their glorious resurrection equal to the body of Christ. And this is why God usually honors such remains, when He works miracles in their presence. "

… HOLY TOMBS: When in Judaism the tomb was considered impure and touching a corpse caused the worst ritual impurity, when also the Romans built veritable necropoles always outside the walls of their towns, the Christians brought their deceased brothers and sisters back into the community. So they renewed a collectivism which we originally know from archaic cultures: The dead, they believed, remain present and maintains a connection to the living.
They can receive graces and even become advocates. Thus the Christians gathered since the 2nd century regularly at their cemetaries, the catacombs, for ritual (Agape) meals usually on the anniversary of the date of death of a family member, which has now become his “dies natalis”, his birthday into eternal life.
A veritable "solidarity of the living and the dead", as Jacques Le Goff calls it, developed in the Middle Ages when the dead were buried next to the churches right in the center of a town or the village, because the cemetary was located in the churchyard.

THE SOUL IN THE BODY: “Since the soul leaves traces in the limbs, and the spirit mixes its merits with the body”, a Christian grave inscription in Rome from the 5th century states. The body preserves traces of life and even of its merits. Therefore Holiness was not only for the soul, but also the for the body and even the bones. "The bodies, though dead, live here in so many miracles," Pope Gregory the Great (ca. 600 AD) wrote. Angenendt: "Henceforth, it is clear: In the body of the saints are really power and life; Yes, the relics are alive and so is the saint himself", a belief that was expressed in many legends, but also in the tomb inscription of St. Martin of Tours: "Here is buried the holy Bishop Martin, whose soul is in the hands of God. but here he is wholly present, manifest in all grace of miracles ". This "real presence of the saint", as Thomas of Canterbury  calls it,  was compared to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The saint rested in his church, he could at any time become active on a call, intercede, help and grant blessings and graces.

OUTSIDE AND INSIDE A HOLY TOMB: Thiofried of Echternach (+ AD 1110) impressively describes the force that, as it was believed, emanated from the tombs of the saints. “And what it works miraculously because of its advocating holy merits, it does in an even more miraculous way in dissolved dust and radiates on everything, inside and outside and even on the cover of a tomb  … it (the dust) spreads the abundance of its holiness ... on everything which holds and encloses it. He who, with firm belief, touches the outside, also touches the inside.”

Thus, the veneration of relics extended first to the grave itself, then to his bones and eventually, in addition, to the vestments used by the saint during his lifetime. The most famous example in mediaeval Europe was the Cappa, the divided robe of St. Martin, which became the “Imperial relic” of the Carolingians. During their campaigns, special chaplains were appointed for its watch, the so-called Capellani; the oratory of the Imperial palace was called , in reference,  “capella”, so chaplains and chapels got their names.
Often those so-called "secondary relics" were also worn, whether they were vestments, belts or even chains of martyrs, like the chains of St. Peter, of St. Paul or - revered in the East – St. George, whose contact should heal the possessed.

A tomb of a saint made his virtus, his supernatural, miraculous power,  available. As the story of Jesus and the haemophiliac woman has shown,  it can be received by the touch of a believer. Someone just needed to touch the tomb or anything which came in contact with the holy body, to come into possession of his grace. Thus begun, starting from the late antiquity, a never-ending stream of pilgrims towards the tombs of the saints, whether to the apostles' tombs in Rome or Santiago de Compostela, to St. Nicholas of Bari or to Saint Anthony of Padua. They worshipped the graves and rearranged them, so that the faithful were able to even sleep in front of them as in the healing temples of antiquity. In some cases, patients were also placed on the coffin of the saint. Later, the coffins were raised so that the pilgrims were invited to crawl underneath, as it is still practiced in Cologne at the shrine of the Magi on Epiphany. Always a "direct participation in the power of the saint“ was intended.

Eventually it was tried to "capture” the power of his blessing, first in lamp oil and candle wax, then in more tangible relics. Even the pagan Romans honored the dead by pouring precious oils into their sarcophagi, a custom which was continued by the Christians; often we find in Holy Tombs circular openings for anointing oil, but also drains to receive the oil, now hallowed by the touch of the holy corpse and filled often with tiny particles of his remains. Soon they began to break square openings into the cover plates of the tombs, as we can see it at St. Paul’s Basilica Outside the Walls in Rome. These were reportedly used to introduce strips of cloth, so-called brandae, a custom which Gregory of Tours (6th cent.) describes in great detail. It was believed that if they were kept in the coffin overnight, they were much heavier on the next morning, due to the blessings and energy they now contain (and of course the oil they soaked).  Those brandae became the first “relics by touch” (3rd class relics).

CHURCHES ABOVE TOMBS – AND RELICS: In the early 4th century under Constantine the Great, the first churches were built above the  tombs of the apostles and martyrs in Rome and the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In all of them, the original tomb was encased in a marble cube so that the faithful were able to venerate it by encircling in a solemn procession.
A new concept was introduced, when the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls in Rime was regularly flooded by the Tiber river and the church had to be raised. In this case, the tomb “sank” into the new ground level and a circular surrounding was created on its original level, the so-called “confessio”.  This concept was later copied by all Roman basilicas, including, when it was rebuilt in 1506, St. Peter’s.
NO ALTAR WITHOUT RELICS: Originally some of the earliest churches were built above the tombs of the Apostles and Martyrs. But soon, nearly every important church wanted to have its own martyr’s tomb, so that skeletons and bones from the catacombs – believed to held the early martyrs – were transferred into newly-built churches, which by this became new tombs for so many “forgotten” martyrs. Eventually EVERY altar had to become, at least symbolically, a martyr’s or saint’s tomb - by the insertion of relics by the bishop during its consecration. Even today there is the rule: No holy body without altar and no altar without relics. Thus, the Catholic altar,  originally "Throne of the body and blood of Christ“, became a reliquary. The faithful came to the altar to venerate the saint and ask him to intercede, to swear an oath or seal a document with the saint as witness. In the canonization, a saint is “raised to the honour of the altars”.
This concept developed in the Middle Ages. When the Byzantine Empress asked Pope Gregory the Great in ca. 600 AD for a relic of St. Peter, he declined it outragedly; it appeared as unthinkable to compromise the integrity and completeness of the Apostle’s relics, even the opening of his tomb was considered a sacriledge. Only during the Carolingian Renaissance, during the 9th century, the demand for relics was so great that complete bodies of martyrs were transferred to the Frankonian Empire in ca. 800, from which single bones were taken and given away since the 9th century.  This practice reached Rome during the reign of Otto III (ca. 1000 AD). Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim, for example, in St. Paul Outside the Walls just opened the sarcophagus of St. Timothy and "took out a whole arm of the holy martyr." Henceforth not only splinters of the True Cross or threads of important cloth relics were distributed, but also bone fragments – following the principle, postulated by Victricus of Rouen (+ 407): "Ubi est aliquid ibi totum est" - where is a part, there is the whole. A particle was enough to assure the presence of the Saint. The result was the mediaeval “great division of the holy corpses”.

OSTENTATIVE VENERATION: Since the 14th century it was no longer enough to guess the relics in the altars. They were removed from their enclosures and placed in new shrines with windows or shown in glass containers, so-called ostensories. Entire collections, listed carefully, invited the faithful and pilgrims who were both, blessed with the reliquary and able to venerate the relic with a kiss. When Pope Gregory the Great (600 AD) still stated: "it is quite inadmissible and sacrilegious, if someone wanted to touch the bodies of the saints“ – in his times only the marble shrine or sarcophagus  and the altar above was touched – those ostensions created a new level of immediacy. Moreover, the saint became mobile. He was carried around in solemn processions, either in his shrine or reliquary, and with his relics cities, houses and individuals were blessed. As the icon is a direct representation of the saint in the Eastern Churches, his relics played the same role in the west. In them, so it was believed, was his life and power that could be transmitted by touch.

HEILTUMSFAHRTEN – RELIC PILGRIMAGES: During this period, the tradition of relic pilgrimages (Heiltumsfahrten) begun, which attracts hundredthousands of pilgrims even today – as every seven years in the Charlemagnes capital Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle).
ST. HELENA (248-330): In 325 Helena Augusta, the mother of St. Constantine the Great, went with nearly 80 years on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On this trip, she founded several churches and monasteries and collected important relics. Among the most important were the Holy Robe (today in Trier, the town where she was baptized) and the bones of the three Magi, which she sent to Milan and which were later brought to Cologne.
She arrived in Jerusalem where St. Constantine had ordered the removal of the Hadrianic West Forum, built above the holy sites, and the search for the Holy Sepulchre, the empty tomb of Christ.
During the search, in an ancient cistern, 3 crosses, three nails and the title of the cross of Christ were found. By the healing of a sick woman, the True Cross was identified. St. Helen divided the Cross and sent parts to Constantinople and Rome, a part remained in Jerusalem. Two of the nails went to her son, one to Rome. Half of the titulus remained in Jerusalem, the other half was sent to Rome, where it is still venerated. (Sources: Eusebius, Ambrose of Milan, Rufinus, Sozomenos, Sokrates Scholasticus)

RELICS OF THE TRUE CROSS: Fragments of the Cross were broken up, and the pieces were widely distributed; in 348, in one of his Catecheses, Cyril of Jerusalem remarked that the "whole earth is full of the relics of the Cross of Christ," and in another, "The holy wood of the Cross bears witness, seen among us to this day, and from this place now almost filling the whole world, by means of those who in faith take portions from it.“ The pilgrim Abbess Egeria's account testifies to how highly these relics of the crucifixion were prized and venerated already in 385 AD. Saint John Chrysostom relates that fragments of the True Cross were kept in golden reliquaries, "which men reverently wear upon their persons." Even two Latin inscriptions around 350 from today's Algeria testify to the keeping and admiration of small particles of the cross. Around the year 455, Patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem sent to Pope Leo I a fragment of the "precious wood". A portion of the cross was taken to Rome in the seventh century by Pope Sergius I, who was of Byzantine origin. "In the small part is power of the whole cross",  bishop Paulinus of Nola stated at the beginning of 5th century. The cross particle was inserted in the altar.
Skeptics claim that all fragments of the True Cross together would have enough wood to build a entire ship. This is not true, as Rohault de Fleury proved in 1870, who documented and calculated the volume of all major relics in European Cathedrals: Altogether they have less volume than a third of the crosspiece of Christ‘s cross (see Hesemann 2000).

CHARLEMAGNE (747-814): Charlemagne tried both, to sanctify his kingdom and to claim his legitimacy as Emperor by building up a relic collection comparable to that of the Byzantine Emperor. „From all nations he collected them, brought by legates, which he sent everywhere, to Jerusalem, Constantinople, Rome“, Abbot Angilbert of Centula noted. For all his life he wore both, a fragment of the True Cross and a hair of the Blessed Virgin Mary around his neck.
In his capital Aachen alone he venerated the dress of the Virgin Mary, the swaddling clothes of Christ, the decapitation cloth of St. John the Baptist and the cloth worn by Christ on the cross next to his shroud, sudarium and the table cloth of the last supper, which were later brought to the monasteries of Kornelimünster and Mönchengladbach, as well as His tunic, today in the former monastery and now parish church of Argenteuil near Paris.

THE BYZANTINE EMPERORS (330-1204): The Emperors of Byzantium, called Isapostolos (Equal to the Apostles), had the largest relic collection in history in the Pharos-Chapel of their Palace in Constantinople. They defined themselves as heirs and representatives of Christ on Earth and used the relics as symbols of their legitimacy and guarantee of His protection. In a letter to his troops, Constantine VII „Porphyrogennetos“ listed his main relics. Besides, English, Icelandish, French and Russian pilgrims of the 12th century, and the chronists of the 4th Crusade 1204 described them, next to an inventory compiled by Nicolas Mesarites, Custodian of the Pharos Chapel, from 1201.
As Geoffrey of Villehardouin wrote in 1204: „There were more relics in this city than in the rest of the world counted together.“ When the Frankish and Venetian crusaders sacked Constantinople in 1204, Western Europe was flooded with hundreds of stolen relics from Constantinople.

ST. LOUIS IX OF FRANCE (1214-1270): The Crusaders founded the „Latin Empire of Constantinople“ and sold its last relics. In 1237, Emperor Balduin II sold the Crown of Thorns for 135.000 Livrees to the pious king of France, Louis IX. After the king received the precious relic at the border of his kingdom, he went barefoot in a solemn procession to Paris, always holding the relic. To house it, he built the Saint Chapelle, the most filigree Gothic chapel, with the „Grande Chasse“, a major ciborium-like display for his relics, in the center. Two years later he bought two large fragments of the True Cross, the shaft of the Holy Lance, a fragment of the Purple Robe, the Holy Sponge, the Holy Reed and an alleged fragment of the Holy Shroud.
Unfortunately a part of this unique relic collection got lost during the French Revolution in 1793.

EMPEROR KAREL IV: Inspired by Charlemagne, the Byzantine Emperors, St. Louis IX and the myth of a „Castle of the Holy Grail“, the German-Bohemian Emperor Charles IV. built Karlsteyn castle near Prague in Bohemia to house the most important „Reichsreliquien“ (Imperial relics), which he either inherited from his predecessors or – as a thorn from the Crown of Thorns and another True Cross relic – received as gifts from his relatives.
They were kept in the „Chapel of the Holy Cross“ with its walls decorated with semiprecious stones and beautiful paintings.
Once a year, on the „Feast of the Holy relics“, they were brought for public veneration to his capital Prague. Later the „Reichsreliquien“ were transferred to Nuremberg and exposed there once ayear. Today they are part of the „Spiritual treasury“ of the Vienna Hofburg, the palace of the  Austrian Emperors of the House of Habsburg .


From the time when St. Helena discovered three crosses, the question of authenticity arose. Until the high Middle Ages, the authenticity of relics was tested by miracles. When, after fasting and prayer and an invocation of the saint, a miraculous healing occurred, the relic was considered authentic.
Since the Crusades, when unscrupulous Muslims sold all kinds of forgeries to naïve European pilgrims, new regulations were necessary.
In 1215, the 4th Lateran Council released new instructions for both, the clergy and the  faithful. Its Canon 62 dealt with the misuse of the veneration of relics. It forbade their ostension without a reliquary as well as their sale. Newly discovered relics were not allowed to be venerated without Papal permission.
Again, in the Council of Trient (1545-1563) the veneration of relics was both, confirmed and regulated.
It stated in Session XXV: “Also, that the holy bodies of holy martyrs, and of others now living with Christ,-which bodies were the living members of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Ghost, and which are by Him to be raised unto eternal life, and to be glorified,--are to be venerated by the faithful.” “also, that no … new relics be recognised, unless the said bishop has taken cognizance and approved thereof; who, as soon as he has obtained some certain information in regard to these matters, shall, after having taken the advice of theologians, and of other pious men, act therein as he shall judge to be consonant with truth and piety.”
We distinguish today between first, second and third class relics:

FIRST CLASS RELICS are  the bones of saints and martyrs (“ex ossibus”), but also all the relics of Christ (DNJC) and the BVM, from his grave cloth up to particles of his cross. They have to be sealed and recognized by a bishop.
SECOND CLASS RELICS are the cloth worn by saint or martyr or the instrument of his passion, but also “touched” replicas of all relics of Our Lord.
THIRD CLASS RELICS are “relics by touch” - mostly cloths which touched a 1st or 2nd class relic and usually given out in relic cards.

Catholic Canon Law does not allow the sale of relics under penalty of excommunication – only reliquaries are allowed to be sold! 

The Council of Trient renewed the veneration of relics as a powerful Instrument of the Catholic Counter-reformation. Now, for the first time, small particles were distributed, enclosed in sealed thecas, with a cedula describing their content and a document, the so-called  „Authentic“, issued by the bishop who confirmed, sealed and released the relic, confirming its authenticity and allowing its public veneration.
If a relic is still perfectly sealed and bears the original red wax/ceralacca-seal of a Bishop, is is, to the best knowledge, according to the tradition of the Church, authentic. An additional document confirms the authenticity and describes the relic in greater detail.  


HOW MEDIAEVAL COLOGNE PRODUCED 11.000 VIRGINS: According to the legend, St. Ursula was a Briton princess who was supposed to marry the Governor of Armorica in 451 AD. When her ship got into a storm, she vowed to make a pilgrimage to Rome bevor her wedding, together with her 11 Bridemaidens. On the way down the Rhine, near Cologne, they were attacked, raped and killed by the Huns, who ignored their Christian faith and the general protection of pilgrims, so they were soon considered Holy Martyrs. In the 10th century, during the construction of the Church commemorating her martyrdom, a Roman graveyard was discovered and all skeletons considered parts of her entourage. To fit  with the high number of relics, Bishop Heribert of Cologne in 922 translated the inscription of her tomb, „Sancta Ursula et XI M.V.“ (11 martyres virgenes) as „11 milla virgines“ = 11.000 virgins. A whole industry developed to produce beautiful reliquaries and sell them, together with bones from this graveyard, in the entire Christian world, which made Cologne rich and important even before the advent of the relics of the Magi.   

FORGERIES ON EBAY: Fraudulent dealer „all-about-tea“ (Markus Patten) offered relics of  „St. George“ – „St. John the Baptist“ „Veil of Our Lady“ – for $ 150,--  – „Passion relics (True Cross, Titulus, Holy Nail, Crown of Thorns, Holy Lance“ for only $ 275,-- !!

FORGERIES FROM NOVARA: Before 2015, literally thousands of faked relics were sold to Russian faithful by a Subdeacon from Novara/Italy, Mr. Francesco Cerutti, together with beautiful, although worthless, self-produced „documents“, even in Russian, as a special service to his customers. Our investigation and complain at the Bishop of Novara in February 2015 has stopped his fraudulent activities.
“Egregio Sig. Michael Heseman, la ringrazio per la preziosa segnalazione che mi ha fatto giungere. Il Sig. Franco Cerruti è effettivamente il nostro incaricato della custodia delle reliquie, ma la cessione o vendita che è stata fatta è stata totalmente arbitraria e non autorizzata dalla Curia. Provvederò dunque a chiedere spiegazioni all’interessato e a intervenire come necessario. Grazie ancora per la collaborazione.
Cordialmente. Mons. Cossalter Fausto, Vicario generale.”

AN UNSCRUPULOUS PRELATE: Fr. Riccardo Petroni was postulator for the cause of the beatification of Fr. Giuseppe Canovai, founder of the Catholic lay organisation „Familia Christi“, to which Petroni belongs and for which he works as „Ecclesiastical assistant“. As such he certainly had access to relics of this 20th century founder, who died in 1942 in Buenos Aires. Still, he sold THOUSANDS of relics, especially of early saints like St. Spiridon and even bone relics (ex ossibus) of St. John the Beloved to wealthy Russians, together with his self-produced documents. In February 2015 we informed the Vicariate of Rome. This and other scandals caused the excardination and transfer of Fr. Petroni to the Archdiocesis of Ferrara on 8.6.2016 after 18 years in Rome.

RED FLAGS: Today, relics from closed-down monasteries, closed and sold Churches or private chapels, with or without documentation, are sold on the antique market in Western Europe. Generally, it is recommendable to retrieve authentic relics and preserve them from misuse, commercialization and desecration. Still, there are also many forgeries out there.
* A relic is worthless, if it is not properly sealed with the red wax seal of a bishop. An original document is a perfect addition, but not a „must“, since docs often got lost.
* A relic is with some certainty a forgery if there are indications of manipulation and anachronism, e.g. a computer-printed cedula in a Baroque reliquary with an alleged 19th century seal. So LOOK OUT FOR ANACHRONISMS!
Note: It regularly happened that relics were „visited“ and „confirmed“ by auxiliary bishops decades or even centuries after their original release. Also, broken or damaged seals were often „confirmed“ by new seals. Therefore, a younger seal, not fitting with the document, is NOT automatically an indication of a forgery, but might document a long veneration.
* A relic is most probably a forgery if its document shows indications of a manipulation. It is always an indicaion of a forgery when we find great violations of the protocol, e.g. a Papal lead seal (bulla) attached to an Episcopal authentic („Marystar“). Seals can be reproduced – so beware if one dealer offers a great number of relics with the same seal or of the same style.
* Even „authorized“ Church personell is not always a guarantee for authenticity – a postulator, e.g., is only authorized to issue relics of the saints in whose cases he or his order is or was involved. 
* Since modern reliquaries with relics and attached documents can easily be reproduced, carefully check the handwriting with known authentic samples – and, if possible, ask an expert!


THE TITULUS CRUCIS: The titulus is a nut wood board, 25x14 cm in size, 2.6 cm thick and has a weight of 687 g. It is inscribed on one side with three lines, of which the first one is mostly destroyed. The second line is written in Greek letters and reversed script, the third in Latin letters, also with reversed script. We can read the words: z´nh - BSUNERAZA(H)N.SI - RSUNIRAZAN .I. Two scholars, Prof. Carsten Peter Thiede of the Universities of Basel and Beer-Sheva and Prof. Israel Roll of the University of Tel Aviv, considered this a major indication of the authenticity of the titulus. First of all, a variation of Joh. 19,19 is a freedom no forger would ever risk. But it makes sense, since Pontius Pilatus, who, according to the gospels, dictated the inscription, was a Roman magistrate and used, especially for official documents, the official language Latin. It was up to the writer to create a version in the other two languages, and therefore it was rather unlikely that he transferred the term "Nazarinus" in the correct Greek form. The abbreviation of the name "Iesous/Iesus" as "I." is typical for Roman Latin inscriptions. Since "Yeshu/Yehoshua" was a common name during the 1st century -Flavius Josephus mentions 16 persons with this name-, the unique "Nazarinus" rather pointed to the Savior from a small village in Galilee, at least for a Roman magistrate, although such an abbreviation in contrast to John 19,19 would be unthinkable for a Christian forger. It is furthermore significant that the writer used the Latin NazarInus instead of the later Christian NazarEnus. Indeed, NazarInus is closer to the Hebrew NaZarY and seems to be the original form. Both indicates an early, even contemporary origin.
In 1997, I consulted 7 leading experts on Hebrew, Greek and Latin palaeography such as Dr. Gabriel Barkay of the Israel Antiquity Authority, Prof. Dr. Hanan Eshel, Prof. Dr. Ester Eshel and Dr. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University Jerusalem, Prof. Dr. Israel Roll and Prof. Dr. Ben Isaac of the University of Tel Aviv and Prof. Carsten Peter Thiede of Paderborn/Germany and the University of Beer Sheva, Israel. Three of these experts -the noted scholar couple Hanan and Ester Eshel and Prof. Thiede- worked on the palaeographic dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Dr. Di Segni is considered the leading expert on Greek inscriptions in the Holy Land. All experts dated the Hebrew, Greek and Latin line into the 1st century AD, the time of Christ.

THE TURIN SHROUD: Since 1973, scientists from investigated the Holy Shroud of Turin, which became the world‘s most-researched historical object. To summarize some of the most relevant findings:
On the shroud are pollen from plants wh grow in France/Italy, in the Constantinople-region, in Anatolia and in the Holy Land – including two plants which only grow together in the small strip between Jericho and Jerusalem and only in March and April; of these two plants also imprints were found on the cloth.
On the feet, knee and face region, stone particles were found whose geological signature is identical with stone particles/street dust from Jerusalem.
On the shroud is human blood of the blood AB, the most common (50,8 %) among 1st-3rd cent. Jews (according to the Anthropological Institute Univ. of Tel Aviv). Also DNA was partially identified, with the Cohen haplotype, identifying the „man on the Shroud“ as related to the Levites.
The Shroud image is not only a perfect photographic negative, but also contains 3D-data. One eye and a lid were covered by coins identified as a lepton released by Pontius Pilate in 29 AD.
The body image on the Shroud was created by the yellowing of the uppermost fibers of the linen threads – it is as fine as the skin of a soap bubble. The burst of radiant energy obviously emanating from the body itself which „burned“ it into the cloth, probably ultra.violet light, was calculated as „several billion watts“ – and “exceeds the maximum power released by all ultraviolet light sources available today.” (Paolo di Lazzaro, ENEA)

THE BONES OF ST. PETER: In 1939, when they wanted to enlarge the niche for the tomb of Pope Pius XI, Vatican construction workers discovered a Roman necropolis right underneath St. Peter‘s Cathedral. At ist end, right underneath the Papal altar, was the original memorial of St. Peter, built in the 2nd Cent AD above his original earth tomb. It was surrounded by the skeletons of early Popes and a woman (his wife or daughter?), one of them originally believed to be the relic of the Prince of the Apostles. 
Part of the original monument was a wall, covered over and over with graffiti, invocations to St. Peter and Christ. Inside was a marble-covered niche in which bones were found, enhulled in fragments of a purple cloth. When those 135 bone fragments were presented to the anthropologist Prof. Venerandi Correnti, the sensation was perfect: They came from a man who was originally buried in an earth tomb (even a bone of a mouse was among them), strong and heavily built, experienced in hard work under high humidity (arthrosis!), ca. 1.66 metres in size and 60-70 years old when he died, his feet missing.
According to the tradition, St. Peter was crucified upside down. Obviously his body was taken from the cross with the help of a sword. In 1968, Pope Paul VI confirmed that „the relics of St. Peter were identified in a convincing way“. Today they have returned to the niche in the graffiti wall, packed in 19 plexiglas containers. Nine fragments were enclosed in a silver reliquary and kept in the Papal appartement. On 24 Nov. 2013 they were presented to the public the first time by Pope Francis.

THE BONES OF ST. LUKE: Since ca. 1172, the alleged relics of St. Luke are venerated in a lead coffin in the Church of S. Giustina in Padua/Italy.
The Evangelist died in 84 AD in Thebes/Greece, but his relics were transferred to Constantinople in the 4th century. In 1992, the Greek Orthodox bishop of Thebes requested the return of the relics from the Roman Catholic Church. The bishop of Padua ordered a team of scientists under Prof. Guido Barbujani to open the shrine and investigate the relics. They turned out to be a skeleton without a skull of a man who died between 70 and 85 and was about 5ft 4in tall, of a stocky build. He had suffered from osteoporosis and arthritis of the spine.  The remains fitted, anatomically, with a skull in Prague which was said to be that of St Luke, brought from Padua by Emperor Karol IV.
Coins found in the coffin, dated from 229 AD, indicated an early veneration. Two teeth were removed for C14 dating and DNA sampling. C14 indicated that the man died between 416 BC and 72 AD. But was he a local from Greece or the Evangelist, who was born in Antioch/Syria? For this, Barbujani sampled DNA from Aleppo/Syria, since Antakya (Antioch) today is inhabited mainly by Kurds. He also tested Greeks from Attica and Crete. The result: The man was certainly of Syrian origin – as St. Luke!

THE RELICS OF ST. NICOLAS: After Myra was conquered by the Selcuk Turks, sailors from Bari transferred the relics of St. Nicolas to the Adriatic harbour city in 1087 AD. 12 years later, during the 1st Crusade, Venetians landed in Bari and claimed they retrieved the remaining relics of the saint, a claim that was often questioned. They were venerated in the church of St. Nicola del Lido. Luigi Martino, anatomy professor at the University of Bari, had carried out thorough anatomical examination of the bones in Bari in 1953 and 1957. They had been removed during repairs to the crypt and he took careful measurements and thousands of photographs and x-rays. In 1992 he was asked to examine the relics held at the Lido. The Venetian bones were broken in many small pieces and fragments, perhaps as many as 500. They were a whitish gray color, probably because they had been stored in an open dry container, maybe even in the sun. This would also make the bones brittle and vulnerable to breakage. One source asserts that they had been stored in lime for 230 years. If so, that would also explain the color and condition.
In addition to the bone fragments, a jar of manna and a black stone inscribed with the saint's name help confirm identity. The top of the left long arm bone had a sharp cut such as would be made to remove a relic piece, indicating the bone belonged to a person who was the object of veneration. Luigi Martino concluded that the fragments of bones in Venice were complementary to the bones in Bari. They are from the skeleton of the same man. The many small pieces found in Venice are consistent with accounts of the Bari sailors, in great haste, gathering up nearly all of the larger pieces, thus leaving the smaller ones, before hurrying back to their ships.

ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST IN BULGARIA? In July 2010, on St. Ivan Island near the Bulgarian Black Sea coastal town Sozopol, in the ruins of a 4th century monastery, a sealed marble reliquary was found, inscribed with the name and feast day of St. John the Baptist. Inside were a skull fragment and a tooth. When I saw the reliquary, I immediately identified it as a typical 5th century marble shrine reliquary from the Holy Land and communicated this to the Wall Street Journal, which interviewed me (WSJ 13.8.2010): “Since it was the time of the discovery of St. John the Baptist’s tomb and relics in Nablus, there is a certain degree of probability that indeed some relics (bone fragments) from this tomb were brought to Bulgaria at that time”, I was quoted.
“National Geographic TV” arranged both, a C14 test and a DNA analysis of the relics. On 8 March 2015, CNN reported the results. According to the C14 lab in Oxford, Prof. Tom Higham, the bones were of a man who lived in the mid-1st century AD.


1. The veneration of Holy Relics is an important and ancient practise of the Apostolic Churches, going back to the time of Christ and documented since Apostolic times.
2. In most cases, the „pedigree“, the  history and origin of relics (other than claimed by the sceptics) is very well documented and often enough confirmed by science.
3. During the Middle Ages, until the 19th century, forgeries were the exemption and mostly caused by Muslims during the crusades, not by mostly pious and God-fearing Christians. Dubious relics in Europe were rather the result of wishful thinking than intentional fraud, although clever commercialization happened and was accepted as a „grey zone“, as well as the sale of relics.
4. The Church in the West was aware of problematic cases and started a practise of careful control already in 1215 AD, continued until today. Originally sealed/confirmed relics are in most cases authentic.
5. After the 2nd Vatican Council and is more rationalistic and modernist approach, the veneration of Holy Relics declined in the Catholic Church and many of them ended on the antique market. The renewed interest of Conservative and Orthodox Christians in them caused unscrupulous individuals – among them even „enlightened“ churchmen (who believe that all relics are just symbols) – to forge them for financial gain and benefit.
6. Therefore, the main aim of historical-critical and scientific research in relics should be to determine if they are modern-day forgeries, e.g. by detecting anachronisms.
7. Besides of those exemptions, calling for a critical instead of naive approach, a renewal of the veneration of relics is an important step towards a resacralization of the Church, reestablishing a direct, „haptic“ contact with the „virtus“ or „baraka“, the healing powers of saintliness, and getting „in touch with heaven“.

A MISSION FOR RUSSIA: The conversion of Russia is the greatest miracle of our times. When in the West, the faith evaporizes, when e.g. in Germany the number of Catholics shrunk from 28.2 mio down to 24,4 mio in just 20 years (1991-2011), with hundreds of parish Churches closed due to the lack of vocations, in Russia the number of Christians rose from below 50 mio up to 113 mio, the number of parishes from 3451 to 30.142, a miracle even recognized by both, Pope and Patriarch, during their historic encounter on Cuba in 2016.
Unfortunately, the Western Christianity is infected with the Virus of modernism and sometimes follows the principles of the Masonic ideology of „enlightenment“. As a result, the believe in relics declined and often enough their veneration is reduced to a colourful folklore with no greater religious significance at all. Authentic relics, in masses, end up on antique and flea markets since no one venerates them any longer.
The conversion of Russia fulfilled this country‘s historic mission as the Third Rome, the Protector of the Christian faith. Today, Russia is the only Christian superpower on Earth and the last safe harbour of the Christian civilization, when, at the same time, Europe turns toward Agnosticism and gets slowly islamized at the same time. When the Turks invaded Africa and Asia Minor, Christian Europe was entrusted by divine providence with the mission to save and protect so many important relics. Now, this mission has to be overtaken by Christian Russia!

AN IMPORTANT WAY TO GO: Still, faith and reason have to go hand in hand, as our great Pope Benedict XVI used to say. On one hand, there are authentic relics, whose veneration is a source of blessings to the faithful, REAL HISTORICAL objects from the time of Our Lord and the Saints, not pious forgeries, as the masonic and communist propaganda claimed – a fact determined by state-of-the-art science. On the other hand, the loss of faith in the West caused greedy individuals, even from the clergy, to sell faked relics. To discern, to separate „the wheat from the chaff“, we need reason – a responsible multidisciplinary scientific approach.
This is the way gone by the Russian Centers for Orthodox Relics Research, Fr. Ilia Makaroff and Mikhail Arteev, and I can only invite all of you to join forces for an all-Christian initiative to both, save and verify the true treasures of the Church, more precious than gold and diamonds:  The silent witnesses of God‘s manifestation on Earth through His incarnation and His saints.

Michael Hesemann mit Fr. Ilia Makaroff vor der Orthodoxen Akademy und mit Mikhail Arteev vor dem Center for Orthodox Relic Research